Williamtown Land Contamination
Today is Valentine's Day. It is an opportunity to express to those who matter most to us that they are valued and respected and to show them the kindness and compassion that they deserve. Most importantly, it is a day to show our loved ones that we support them. On this Valentine's Day, I am once again calling on the Prime Minister and the Premier to show the people of Williamtown that their Government is here for them. After 2½ years of living a nightmare, the families affected by the toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] contamination flowing from the RAAF Base Williamtown are heartbroken.
For seven years they have been lied to and have had secrets kept from them, and they have been hurt emotionally and financially. Representatives of multiple levels of government have treated them with disdain, concerned only with limiting liability rather than looking after those who have been hurt. As more time passes, the communities affected are getting closer and closer to breaking point while the Commonwealth Government continues to drag its heels, offering no real progress. I have said many times in this place that we know the polluter is the Australian Defence Force. We know that Defence and the Commonwealth Government can fix this catastrophe. However, that fact does not allow the New South Wales Government and the Environment Protection Authority [EPA], which is the primary environmental regulator in this State, to abrogate their responsibilities.
If a private company had committed this contamination, the Premier, the environment Minister and the EPA would demand and enforce action. Yet these desperate families have heard no tough words from Premier Berejiklian or environment Minister Upton and their continued silence is deafening. A host of other New South Wales Ministers have called out the Commonwealth Government on matters they consider to be a priority, including the Deputy Premier attacking the Prime Minister and calling for his resignation for committing the cardinal sin of losing opinion polls. But our environment Minister does not consider the Williamtown contamination to be a matter significant enough to publicly demand action from the Federal Government. We could reasonably question whether the New South Wales Government is running a protection racket for Defence or it simply does not care about those families.
The situation gets worse. Families living in the red zone on Cabbage Tree Road have had another truckload of pain dumped on them courtesy of this heartless Government. Those families who have members with high levels of PFAS in their blood have had to fight off raging bushfires which threatened to engulf their homes. Recently they received phone calls from the Department of Planning and Environment informing them that the proposed sand mine that has been plaguing the community for three years has been given the tick of approval. Those families are already on the precipice. I do not know how they are meant to cope with the latest news that the sand mine will proceed to the Planning Assessment Commission for final assessment in addition to everything else. My community should not have to fight this sand mine approval.
The sand mine tender was dodgy from the start, with Port Stephens Council issuing the tender and accepting a bid from the then mayor. The mayor then withdrew his tender so he could be in the room when the tender decision was made. The tender was awarded to a Tinkler Buildev-related company, against the advice of council staff. At that time, Port Stephens Council was the only entity willing to do business with companies related to Nathan Tinkler. Since then, as a result of Tinkler or Buildev being unable to fulfil their tender obligations, the tender was transferred without any formal tender process to another two companies that were seemingly independent from the original businesses. However, we have heard that the people involved with the original company are involved with the new company. This situation stinks to high heaven. The sand mine sits conveniently outside of the new area identified by the EPA as being affected by the contamination, while neighbouring residential properties are included in the red zone. Vegetation and other materials in the red zone, such as weeds from the drains, cannot be removed from the area because there is no safe way to dispose of them.
The approval by the department to go ahead with the sand mine means contaminated material can potentially be trucked across the State, resulting in damage to local aquifers. It beggars belief. Prior to Christmas, the Premier finally met with those families who are affected by the contamination. She heard about their heartache and despair firsthand. I want the Premier to intervene in the cruel, heartless decision made by the Department of Planning and Environment in Sydney. I am calling on the Premier to have a heart this Valentine's Day and to halt this sand mine. Given all the circumstances, she should at least suspend the process until there is a greater understanding of the impact of PFAS on human health or until the residents are given options to leave the area. Unlike people impacted by other unwanted developments around the State, these families cannot escape. People in the red zone cannot leave. Premier, have a heart. Do the right thing and stop this sand mine.